Agents of SHIELDMarvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Review - Episode 7: The HubAgents of SHIELD - RSS 2.0
"He's acting like a robot version of himself."
My question about Agents Of S.H.I.E.L.D.'s erratic early episodes was never really "will this get better?" Almost any series is going to get better as it goes on if given sufficient room to grow, and there was never any real doubt that the TV-spinoff of the biggest movie franchise on the planet right now was going to at least get a full season order. No, my question was "will this get better... in a way that retroactively makes the earlier stuff better as well?" As of this episode, that answer is trending toward a solid "maybe."
If I had to summarize the less-good parts of this shows first few episodes, it would be the apparent lack of scale (why are we following just six people in a plane and not the huge organization in the giant Helicarrier?) and the overreliance on the gimmick of everyone having some kind of dark/terrible secret backstory they're keeping from everyone else. What's been encouraging of late is the growing sense that these seeming concessions to budget (re: scale) and cheap dramatic shortcuts (re: withholding information to artificially-generate "mystery") have actually been part of a bigger thematic arc built into the series.
As a change of pace, the Agents are actually part of the pre-credits action beat as a man in a hood being tortured by a pair of burly guards somewhere underground turns out to be Coulson. Furthermore, his interrogator turns out to be an undercover S.H.I.E.L.D operative whom Coulson and Agent May have come to extract - oh, and they're apparently somewhere under the arctic. Or maybe Siberia. If there was a subtitle, I missed it.
Undercover Guy was carrying a data-recorder in one of those Total Recall (good version) nose pod things, and whatever is inside is for the eyes of Agents with at least Level 8 clearance only; meaning that only Coulson and May qualify and that our meta-plot for the week will be our familiar, friendly flying co-op brushing up against the more rigidly-structured main version of S.H.I.E.L.D itself. Hence The Hub, a sprawling facility that appears to serve as S.H.I.E.L.D's war room - but not, explains Simmons, its headquarters. That would be The Triskelion, making this the first time we've ever heard anyone mention it by name in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (it may or may not be the strange-looking D.C. building in the trailer for Captain America: The Winter Soldier.) Speaking of which, The Hub is an impressive (and expensive) enough looking arrangement of interior sets that I wouldn't be surprised to see it reappear in that film (it goes without saying we'll see more happen here on Agents.)
At The Hub, S.H.I.E.L.D's shot-callers do what we'll soon learn they do they best: Instigate division. Coulson, Ward and May get pulled into a grownups-only briefing with the apparently infamous Victoria Hand (Saffron Burrows, a dead-ringer for the character's comic-book counterpart,), Fitz/Simmons scurry off to geek out over the latest Agency tech toys and Skye... pretty much has to wait in the lobby owing to that "Girl You Done F*cked UP!" bracelet she's being made to wear now. Even before that, she's already back to raising a stink about all the extra secrecy; prompting Simmons to explain that S.H.I.E.L.D's whole operation is based on "a hierarchy of information" - everyone and everything operates on a level-separated need-to-know basis - which reminds us of one of the show's more bizarre plot conceits: Technically, since they're allowed to know that Coulson is alive, all of our main Agents (even Skye!) have a higher security clearance than The Avengers.
Speaking of Skye, she'd really like to take a look at The Hub's database for information on those S.H.I.E.L.D-redacted "who are my real parents?" documents that we now know has been her primary motivation the whole time. Coulson says he'll look into it. Had you forgotten this plot point? Don't worry, they're going to bring it up three or four more times this episode. Also coming up several times, the omnipresent "something is different about Phil," most notably when Hand asks him about his Tahitian rehab stint and he catches himself stumbling amid his standard "it's a magical place" response. Hm...
The important data in the nose-pod, incidentally, involves "Ossetian Separatists" building some kind of sonic-superweapon to use in revolt against Russia and Georgia in a bid for... eh, y'know what? Say one thing for this show: It's really good at telegraphing when the spycraft-babble is actually important to the plot and when it's just so much white noise to hang a character-based plot on. This is the second kind. Short version: S.H.I.E.L.D wants Ward and Fitz to slip across enemy lines and disable the weapon, and something about the mission feels "off" to Skye and Simmons prompting them to investigate.